Dave Sandford, KSM, Inc., New York, NY

1. Green Day - American Idiot (Reprise)

Green Day have always written great songs since they hit the radio waves with Longview’s ode to masturbation and have matured in sound through the years with the anti-prom song Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life) and the Kinkseque Waiting, but I never thought they would be the band to make not only one of the greatest concept albums of all time, but also one of the first great and truly rock and roll records of this decade.  American Idiot is a squealing guitar driven masterpiece (I hate the term rock opera as opera does not rock) focusing on an angsty twenty-something male battling a drug problem, a broken home, the conservative way of life, and a broken heart.  These stories are mostly told in the two jaw dropping, fist pumping, epic pieces “Jesus of Suburbia” and “Homecoming.” In these 9 minute master pieces Green Day mashes up several styles mixing everything from simple pop-punk to hard rock with a piano back beat to cutesy,doo-wop and even borrows melodies from Bryan Adam’s Summer of Sixty Nine.  The other album tracks are just as thrilling.  American Idiot and St. Jimmy remains true to the Green Day fast guitar start and stop sound and you can almost hear Billy Joe’s sneer come through the biting lyrics.  Are We The Waiting is an anthemic, lighter raising cry for help (which oddly sounds like P.O.D’s Youth Of A Nation), the dreamy Give Me Novocain floats perfectly on groovy, surf guitar licks, and Holiday feels like a fight song written by the Clash with backing vocals doing a call and response. As far as musicianship, Green Day is an extremely tight unit and drummer Tres Cool’s changes in the epic songs are mind blowing.  Even if you are not a Green Day fan please just listen to this album once.  It is a riveting piece of storytelling that gives great insight on today’s social/political climate and also rocks.
KEY CUTS: The whole freakin’ album. Click here to buy.
2. Modest Mouse - Good News For Bad People (Epic)

If Float On was the only great song on this record it would still be my #2.  That song is a U2 like song of hope from a band that usually revels in stories of doom and road weary travels. It’s a great “shit happens, but you can deal” song.  The rest of the album does lead down a dark path but it’s the music that keeps it up beat feel.  The View’s frantic, dance feel provides great rhythm for leader Isaac Brock’s panicked voice.  Black Cadillacs soft beginnings transforms into an almost vaudevillian trance as Brock’s words “We named our children after towns that we have never been” skips over light piano keys followed by a rage of cymbal bashing.  One Chance follows in the same path but Brock’s vocalizing in the chorus makes it seem like the words are physically falling out of his mouth.  I am sure Epic Records is finally thrilled that this indie darling has provided some grand income, but I have a feeling that the celebrity success that Modest Mouse is earning now will make for some great, darker tales.
KEY CUTS: One Chance, The World At Large, Float On, The Good Times Are Killing Me. Click here to buy.
3. The Walkmen - Bows & Arrows (Record Collection via Warner Brothers)

If U2 and Tom Waits made a record together it might sound like this.  These New York college rock champs provide a mixture of bluesy, guitar jangly rock with a Waits’ like drunken, vocal swagger on tracks like What’s In It For Me, My Old Man, and especially the toy piano tinkered Hang On Siobhan.  The U2 sounds comes in more of the Edge’s creation of a driving guitar sound that actually make you feel like you are running to or from something a la Where The Streets Have No Name.  These sounds are mirrored in songs like The Rat in which the guitar and snare to hi-hat hits seem to be in race with each other and Thinking of a Dream I Had in which singer Hamilton Leithauser talks about subways but also sounds like he recorded his vocals on one as well.
KEY CUTS: Thinking of a Dream I Had, My Old Man, The Rat. Click here to buy.
4. The Arcade Fire - Funeral (Merge)

These Canadians are my favorite new rock act this year.  Funeral dips into several rock genres but never sounds forced.  The chaotic Pixies inspired rock  of Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) and the Frank Black shouting of Neighborhood #2 (Laika) are wonderful album openers.  Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles) is light and folky stomp around the campfire in the woods while Haiti brings the same mood but the light piano touches and French accented vocals transport you to a beautiful beach lit up by torches.  The band even squeezes an arena anthem in with Wake Up’s slow trudging guitar strumming blending with an explosive soulful choir. 
KEY CUTS: Rebellion (Lies), Wake Up, Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles). Click here to buy.
5. Wilco - A Ghost Is Born (None Such)

Flirting with an Americana sound more reminiscent of their 2nd album Being There then the critically acclaimed and indie rock low-fi A Ghost Is Born is another top notch album in Wilco’s 5 album catalog.  Starting off with the slow rockers At Least That’s What You Said and Hell Is Chrome leader Jeff Tweedy continues to take us into his troubled mind where he is constantly fighting his personal relationships with his family, his band mates, and his friends.  The album begins to lighten up (mostly musically, not lyrically) with the folksy guitar strum of Muzzle of Bees and the piano romp of Hummingbird with perfectly poetic and probably reflective lines like “His goal in life was to be an echo.”  The bass line reminiscent of Bowie’s Diamond Dogs and Heroes helps the listener bounce through Tweedy’s struggles with addiction in Handshake Drugs and I’m A Wheel the closest punk rocker that Wilco has ever done will make every alt-country rocker bang their heads to the bluesy guitar riffs and nonsense lyrics. 
KEY CUTS: I’m A Wheel, Handshake Drugs, Spiders (Kidsmoke). Click here to buy.
6. The Killers - Hot Fuss (Island)

Once the 90’s were bombasted with grunge, pop-punk, and rap rock it looked like the 80’s synth rock was gone for good.  Well two kings of these sounds, Duran Duran and INXS, had a baby, a killer baby.  Hot Fuss is a grooving dramatic record mixing dancing keyboard rockers like Somebody Told Me, Mr. Brightside, and Midnight Show with more British sounding swingers like Smile Like You Mean It and Change Your Mind (where on both tracks singer Brandon Flower’s deadpans Michael Hutchence’s dreamy, sincerity with a hint of Morrissey’s over the top vocal dramatics).  The stand out track is All The Things That I’ve Done a Queen like gospel rocker filled with a fantastic guitar lick, soulful choir, and silly but irresistible sing along lyrics like “I got soul, but I’m not a soldier” Maybe on their next record the Killers will make sure this sound will not disappear again for another 15 years.
KEY CUTS: All The Things That I’ve Done, Mr. Brightside, Somebody Told Me. Click here to buy.
7. The Hives - Tyrannosaurus Hives (Interscope)

Last year I wanted to be in the White Stripes. This year I think I could be a Hive
(being Jewish is the same as being Swedish, right?). More solid then their last effort, this album wears you out with its one-two punch of Ramones style punk mixed with the swagger and attitude of the Stones.  Most tracks like No Pun Intended, Abra Cadaver, and See Through Head are two minute or less guitar driven rockers with lead singer Howlin’ Pelle barking his vocals like a punk Mick Jagger.  The Fifties style groover A Little More For Little You and the James Brownesque begging and pleading Diabloic Scheme (sounding like the Godfather’s It’s a Man’s, Man’s World) provide a nice rest from the frantic pace of the rest of the album.
KEY CUTS: A Little More For Little You, Abra Cadaver, Dead Quote Olympics. Click here to buy.  
8. Nellie Mckay - Get Away From Me (Columbia)

The amount of press singer songwriter/pianist Nellie McKay got on this album made her sound like the next Norah Jones, thank the Holy Holies she doesn’t even sound close.  This double disc (a bit much for a debut record) is a vocal mix of sexy Billie Holiday meets Broadway’s cheery Forty Second Street like musicals and old timey vaudeville choruses combined with the cynical gift of story telling that is found in Randy Newman and Tom Waits songs plus a few dabs of Woody Allen humor thrown in.  From the tongue in cheek I Want to Get Married to the sing-songy Ding Dong about her cats death to the spoken word/rap song of Work Song this album is filled with so many styles it will make you dizzy. So dizzy you will fall down giddy, hit play again and spin around some more (and then probably vomit).
KEY CUTS: Clonie, David, It’s A Pose. Click here to buy.
9. Phantom Planet - Phantom Planet (Epic)

This band wants to be a huge rock act in the biggest way.  On their third full length they abandon the poppy, but moody feel of their hit (and O.C. theme song) California and all their Elvis Costello influences to make a raw, Strokish sounding album.  The album is filled with rockers like the blistering bass driven opener Happy Ending, the ska influenced Bad Business, and sexy, slithering First Things First.  There is something missing from this record though.  I guess it is the pop.  Just like I need milk with my cookies, I need a little pop with my rock. 
KEY CUTS: Big Brat, Bad Business, First Things First. Click here to buy.
10. Danger Mouse - The Gray Album (was for free on the internet)

Technically a mash-up is when you combine one song with another (For example placing the music of The Strokes Last Night under the vocals of Christina Aguilera’s Genie In A Bottle).  This album (a combination of The Beatles’ White Album with Jay Z’s Black Album) is not true to its definition (it is more of traditional sampling, then mash-ups) as a Fab Four song never truly becomes the musical bed for Hova’s lyrics to ride on, but it proves to be an amazing experimentation.  Jay Z’s vocal flow proves a perfect ride for George Harrison’s guitar from While My Guitar Gently Weeps on the track What More Can I Say. Dirt Off Your Shoulders becomes a trippy hip-hopper filtered with a repetitive sample from Julia.  Change Clothes is transformed into a crazy circus as Piggies gives into a merry-go-round fun ride feel.  December 4th, the standout track (and my personal favorite from Jay Z’s Black album) rides the guitar intro to Mother’s Nature Son and tells the story of Jay’s rise out of the hood with an emotional narration by his mother.  It’s too bad this record never got an official release due to legalities from both publishing and record companies as it is a great musical education to generations of all ages. HOLLA!!!!
KEY CUTS: December 4th, Change Clothes, My 1st Song.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Franz Ferdinand, Interpol “Antics”, Loretta Lynn “Van Lear Rose,” The Black Keys “Rubber Factory,” Kanye West “College Dropout,” The Scissor Sisters, Eagles Of Death Metal “Peace Love Death Metal,” Keane “Hopes & Fears”
Kanye West/Jesus Walks: The highlight of Kanye’s stellar debut College Dropout is Jesus Walks.  Monk like chanting and spooky pan flute provides the beat for this drug dealing, taking care of business tale.  I rank this song up with LL Cool J’s Mama Said Knock You Out and NWA’s 100 Miles and Runnin’ as it is filled with the same  magnificent fear and energy that made those songs hits and also kept the heads  bobbing.  Also, check out the cover. There’s a guy in a bear suit on it.  That’s definitely a first for a hip-hop album.
Modest Mouse/Float On: As I said above this is a great “shit happens” song.  I hope marching bands start playing this. I think that would be cool.  I was in marching band. I was not cool. 
Franz Ferdinand/Take Me Out:  I can do the most amazing robot dance to this Talking Heads feeling song.  The chorus though kind of freaks me out and makes me want to yell things tourette’s style.  Again, I was never cool.
The Prince/MSG
I was and I am still not a die hard Prince fan, but you should not pass up a chance to see the Great Purple Nurple.  The show was an amazing soul review with Prince racing through many of his hits (although he did do Seven) to focus on new material.  I did not mind because the whole show was so funky.  Morris Day and The Time opened up (man, Jungle Love is so good), Sheila E. came out of the floor playing drums for Glamorous Life and my fiancé (what up G!!!) spotted P Diddy across the MSG floor.  It was awesome.
The Pixies/Hammerstein Ballroom
Some of us never thought it would happen and most of us thought it would sound like shit, but the Pixies reunion proved it all wrong.  The band proved that their tunes were timeless as their sonic blast of songs (mostly from the first 3 records) left the crowd speechless, jaw dropped, and deaf.  The band though did not seem to be having a great time as they bickered quietly on stage and barely made eye contact.  Oh well, it was close to perfect.
A few more mentionables: (aka things that amuse the crap out of me)

Neil Diamond: Is he the cheesy Bruce Springsteen? I have discovered Neil this year and I have been lip synching Cracklin Rosie, Crunchy Granola Suite, and Holly Holy all over Manhattan.  This man is a genius and a former Brill Building writer which is very cool.

The Beastie Boys: They are actually not a rap group, but true comedians. Come on check this line out from their track Shazam! “I like lettuce, tomatoes, munster on rye. All this cheese is gonna make me cry. Gorgonzola, Provolone, don’t even get me started on this microphone.” Ok, MCA, I won’t.

The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame for not inducting Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five. Something seems fishy that rap could not get its first inductees into the hall of fame.  I am sure some people in the rap community are quoting Chuck D “Elvis was hero to most but he never meant shit to me.”  It will be a shame if the Hall waits until Run DMC is eligible or even the Beastie Boys.

U2’s single and Ipod commercial for “Vertigo”: I love the single, but Bono’s counting off in the intro to the song is a rip off from Sam The Sham & The Pharaoh’s brilliant “Wooly Bully.” Sing it with me “Uno, Deus, One, Two, Tres, Quatro. WOOLY BULLY.”

Jack Johnson is the new Jimmy Buffett: My friend Merv and I went to see jammy Jack play Central Park this fall. It was an excellent show, but Merv made me realize he is the new Jimmy Buffett.  I can agree with that. It’s light stoney music for a sunny afternoon with very lazy lyrics.  I just hope his fans are called something better then parrot heads.  Jack Heads doesn’t sound too good though.


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